Poland wants Auschwitz name changed

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Poland has long wanted its name not to be used in reference to concentration camps that existed on Polish soil during World War II. Now Poland has made an official request to change Auschwitz's name -- to mixed reviews.

The Polish government made the request last month to change the name of the site from ``Auschwitz Death Camp" to ``former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp" to UNESCO, the U.N. cultural organization since the site of the death camp is a U.N. cultural heritage site.

UNESCO is expected to respond to the request by mid-2006.

The debate goes to the heart of the question of how Polish behavior during the Holocaust is remembered.

The name change is intended to stop the description of the camp by the international media, including The New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegel, as a ``Polish death camp," which greatly offends many Poles because the camp was run by Germany.

``In the years after the war, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was definitively associated with the criminal activities of the national socialist Nazi regime in Germany. However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal," Culture Ministry spokesman Jan Kasprzyk recently told journalists. ``The proposed change in the name leaves no doubt as to what the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was," he said.

Many Jewish groups and individuals, both in Poland and around the world, are backing the call.

The Union of Religious Jewish Communities in Poland, representing the country's estimated 7,000-10,000 Jews, released a statement in support of the government's request.

Petr Kadlcik, the group's chairman, said ``institutional and national responsibility for the Third Reich's policy" is not historically accurate, ``but also becomes a present-day necessity" in the wake of constant newspaper referrals to Auschwitz as a Polish death camp.

Several Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and Israel's Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, have recently backed the name change.

So have others long involved in Jewish life.

Menachem Rosensaft, the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said in an e-mail that the Polish government's request is ``absolutely legitimate. The death factory of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1,000,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered, was a German camp, conceived by the Nazi-German government and operated by Germans."

Rosensaft, whose parents were inmates at Auschwitz and whose grandparents and brother were gassed there, added that ``it makes no sense to obfuscate valid concerns about historical and present-day Polish anti-Semitism by suggesting that Poles rather than Germans bear responsibility for the evil that was Auschwitz."

Poles have long complained that their victimization by the Nazis has been ignored as world attention has focused on the Holocaust.

The issue was complicated by the Polish dual role as martyrs -- the Nazis labeled them ``subhumans" -- and as victimizers because some of them were involved in anti-Semitic acts during and after World War II.

But Dr. Maram Stern, deputy secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, accused Poland recently of trying to rewrite history with the proposed change.

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